Feb. 20, 2018
by Aliyah Huland El
When I was six years old, my father coached a travel level team of fifth grade boys, and the ball has been bouncing ever since.
Growing up, I was incredibly competitive: I wanted to be the strongest in my grade, the fastest, the smartest, etc. Basketball provided me with the perfect format in which to compete, along with the myriad of other sports I competed in. Early on, I loved basketball because my father loved it. He had been (and still is) so passionate about the sport, about playing the right way, about being a great teammate and the importance that playing a team sport holds in a child’s life. As in any other aspect, a teacher who is passionate and dedicated breeds students who are also passionate and dedicated. Every day we spent together, he fueled my passion for the game, and for this, I am exponentially grateful.
I love the game for many reasons, but as I’ve matured, I realized how much playing this game has helped me off of the court. Our game is a microcosm of life; each game equates to a life experience, providing new adversities, each one being unique to those prior. We play a fast game, one that transitions from defense to offense and back to defense very quickly. I love the fact that every day I practice thinking on my toes, reading situations, determining which decision to make, and acting all in a matter of seconds. Given that the game flows at such a fast pace, we become accustomed to moving on the fly, and to not dwelling on the past. The game of basketball has provided me with life lessons in a game setting, one that I believe has readied me for adulthood better than any other sport, or life experience could.
I’ll never be on a team setting where I am as close with my teammates as I have been here. My sisters were hand-picked to be a part of this program, and I could not be more appreciative to my coaches for this. My girls have seen me laugh, have made fun of me, soothed me when I have broken down to tears, and congratulated me on my successes. We are a family. I know for sure that I will never trust a group of twelve other peers the way I do my teammates. I love them all so much, and each of them betters me in ways they would never know. I will miss the hours upon hours spent in the locker room, impromptu bowling trips, and team-wide shopping sprees in Richmond. I am going to miss practicing with this special collection of thirteen young women, summer pick-up games, and post-game lifts. I will miss traveling with this team, working with Gunny in preseason, and the killer workouts in postseason. I will miss the feeling of beauty, pride, and privilege when I walk into JPJ arena every day.
The past four years have been a blessing and a privilege. It was a dream come true to play for this university, and my experience was everything I hoped it would be tenfold. I have befriended some of the brightest individuals at this university; people who challenge me intellectually. I have learned from some of the most dedicated and seasoned professionals in their respective fields. Not only was it my dream to play at this level, but it was my father’s, and my grandfather’s dream of a lifetime as well. More recently, I’ve been able to appreciate the fact that only a percentage of a percentage have the chance to experience the student-athlete lifestyle. In speaking with my grandfather before his untimely passing on February the fourth, I have come to understand that the lifestyle I had taken for granted was that of a fantasy for him – one that would have never been possible.
In my time here, I have learned to take a step back and view the “bigger picture”. I have become much more introspective and reflective, and have learned to be steadfast and strong-willed in my beliefs. I have learned the importance of spreading love and positivity to those around me, staying true to myself, and reminding myself that this game – much like this life – is a marathon, not a sprint.
I have the honor and privilege of thanking my coaching staff, support staff, professors and our amazing fans for my time well spent here at the University of Virginia. More than anything, I would love to extend my utmost gratitude to my family. You all have been there for me from the time I couldn’t make a lay-up, and will be there for me once the ball stops bouncing. Thank you for being in my corner always and in all ways. I appreciate and love you more than words allow.
Upon graduation, I hope to continue my career at the professional level. When playing is no longer an option, I plan to pursue medical school and become a Pediatrician. Though I will be done playing, I know for sure that the game will serve some sort of role in my life. May it be as a coach or a crazy mom on the sidelines, this game will always hold a place in my heart.
UVA: thank you for my time here, Charlottesville will always be a home away from home.